Bishop Chronicles

The Chinese Connection: Hip-Hop and Martial Arts

The HHCF’s fusion of Hip-Hop, chess and martial arts has always been about the blending of art, science and subcultures. A lot of people laughed at us in the beginning. But after hosting the biggest opening exhibit at the World Chess Hall of Fame this October with RZA, our impact was undeniable. In the streets, juvenile halls and colleges, our method is working and the demand is growing across the planet.

 

As our organization got on the radar of various news and education outlets, our calls to promote STEAM over STEM began to gain a following. My obsession with these three arts and sports were built on a previous foundation.

The two most influential people on my approach to writing are Dr. John Henrik Clarke and Joseph Campbell. Dr. Clarke was great at being able to say in a sentence, what many folks need paragraphs to write. Joseph Campbell taught “perennial philosophies.” It is defined as “a perspective in the philosophy of religion which views each of the world’s religious traditions as sharing a single, universal truth on which foundation all religious knowledge and doctrine has grown.” While my work to date has not been as concise as Clarke or expansive as Campbell, this is my ultimate intent. The goal of this piece is meant to show how the Asian Kung-fu Cinema impacted African-American culture deeper than other minority groups.

Bruce Lee’s logo for his innovative art, Jeet Kune Do

August 17th 1973, Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon opened in NYC. On November 12th 1973 a gang leader from The Bronx unified the street arts of rap, DJ’ing, graffiti and various forms of dance as Hip-Hop. He founded the Universal Zulu Nation that year to preserve and maintain the subculture on a global scale. A year before, Brooklyn’s Bobby Fischer beat Russia's Boris Spassky in a game of global importance. In September, a new film called Pawn Sacrifice will drop about that chess match and everything that was at stake culturally and politically. These three moments of the early 1970’s impacted American chess, martial arts and Hip-Hop in ways none of us understood at the time. Today we are still discovering its impact. Unveiling these connections are still a beautiful work in progress.


 

he original logo of Mixmaster Mike (of the Beastie Boys) was based on Bruce Lee’s logo for Jeet Kune Do

While exciting entertainment to many, for African American males, Asian Kung-Fu Cinema opened a new door to the Black mind and spirit. Having had our warrior culture removed from us during the transatlantic slave trade though our experience in America, these films gave Black people new ideas and a new ways to reclaim what had been lost 400 years before. Outside of Bruce Lee’s movies films like Shogun Assassin, 36 Chambers of Shaolin, Master of the Flying Guillotine, Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang, and Drunken Master had immense impact. The David Carradine show Kung-Fu (while riddled with many racist elements) also gave weekly wisdom in prime time to those who were smart enough to pay attention.

It is hard to say how many of the African-American’s embracing these films really understood the cultural differences between Chinese and Japanese culture. Obviously on some level this surface understanding could lead to huge generalizations. On the other, this lack of cultural clarity created a space where all of it was taken in, accepted and appreciated. Those that were sincere, took the time to learn the truth. Over time those numbers grew.  


 

Though many of the movies by Bruce Lee and the Shaw Brothers were not of the highest production quality, the wisdom shared was on point. Despite whatever flaws may have been in the overdubbed voices or the corny outfits at times, these films became an obsession in Black America. It appears the ancient wisdom, the discipline and the quest for universal truth all filled a hollow space in many African American hearts, minds and bodies. It is hard to imagine the rise in Blacks practicing Buddhism, the number of Blacks doing yoga and all of the Taoist references in Hip-Hop without Kung-Fu films. It is also hard to envision the rise of the vegan movement in Black America without the rise of Kung-Fu films. These movies changed minds, bodies and spirits. Rappers, DJ’s, Bboys and graffiti writers were all affected and reflected the wisdom in their artistic expression.
 

I don’t think anyone at the time, knew what a benefit these movies would be to Black America. It’s hard to say if Black America itself knew what was taking place and why they were drawn to the films so deeply.
 

RZA, actor and rapper of the iconic Wu-Tang Clan explained the NY scene in the early 1970’s “In Manhattan on 42nd street they had movies. They had a whole slew of shows. We would watch them every weekend. That was around the age of nine. By the time I was twelve or thirteen I started getting fascinated. I would go into Chinatown buying everything. Kung-fu books, slippers [the flat black shoes made famous by Bruce Lee). You name it, I was on a mission.”

 

RZA of Wu-Tang Clan AKA The Man With The Iron Fist with Adisa Banjoko

Reflecting on the impact of the films he says “The good thing for me was growing up in America, there wasn’t much history, outside of the 400 years that I was taught. The only thing they told us back to was Greek mythology, the colonial days, or cowboys and Indians. But I had a chance to watch the martial arts films.  You get to see stuff from the Tang Dynasty, Sung Dynasty, you are seeing 1500 years of history. It kinda opened my mind to a whole new world.... It kinda changed my whole philosophy on life. I started buying books on Buddhism and Taoism. Plus I was studying Christianity, and Islam at the same time. It all translated into my music.”

In the early era of Hip-Hop the teens and young adults gave themselves titles like Grandmaster Flash, Grandmaster D and so on. It is still unclear if these were names that were inspired more by Kung-Fu films, or chess, but something new was happening. Rap crews named themselves the Wu-Tang Clan and DJ’s like Mixmaster Ice (of U.T.F.O. towering on stage above the rappers in a ninja outfit. It was all very hard to ignore, and hypnotic to almost anyone who saw it. Other Hip-Hop artists out there notable for showing an influence of martial arts philosophy and culture include Andre Nickatina, Jeru The Damaja, Afu-Ra, DJ Q-Bert and Beastie Boys DJ Mixmaster Mike.

 

Rap crew U.T.F.O. with Mixmaster Ice in front rocking a ninja suit, 1985.

Chess, first and foremost in many people's minds is about strategy. The word strategy comes from the Latin root word strategos meaning “leader of the army”.

The logo for revolutionary rap group dead prez is the I-Ching. The I-Ching (The Book of Changes)  is an ancient divination text going back to 1000 BC. It is  a book of various symbols that have rich meaning and various interpretations. The Dead Prez logo is of  hexagram, shi, meaning “Leader” or “the army”. Each hexagram is composed of “inner” and “outer” trigrams. The inner trigram represents water and the outer represents earth.

This idea of being grounded like earth, but flow like water was made popular in America by Bruce Lee. Within the world of jiu-jitsu, they have positions known as closed guards and open guards. In chess, there are positional developments known as open and closed games. In both arts, one must be clear about the differences and understand the importance of how and where to be strong and how and where to flow. These are continuous themes within martial arts and chess.

In part two, we will look more into this relationship between Hip-Hop and martial arts.  We have much more to explore.


Adisa Banjoko is Founder of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation (HHCF). The HHCF is the world's first non-profit 501(c)3 to promote music, chess and martial arts to teach nonviolence at-risk youth. RZA is the organization's HHCF Chess Champion and Director of Outreach. For more information visit www.hiphopchess.com .

Rapper Ka, Drops Nights Gambit LP and Shakes Up The Game

Some albums just touch you. In Hip-Hop there are a few albums that, from the first second you knew they would be forever impactful. For me It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Illmatic, Straight Outta Compton, Livin' Like Hustlers and Enter The Wu-Tang and a few others strike your soul almost immediately. 

NY rapper Ka, has accomplished the same with Night's Gambit. Unlike the bulk of rap music today this album is quiet. He does not yell, he almost whispers. Ka's beats have minimalist drums. They are instead haunting melodies with soul moaning elements woven between the rhyme. 

This album is dark. He's from Brooklyn so the reality of violence and the psychology of the streets is in here from front to back. At the same time though, there is an authentic spiritual accent to his work. Not spiritual as in "I'm trying to convert you to what I believe." Rather he just shares indications of how he interprets what he has endured spiritually. 

If you are not up on the meaning of his name, its kinda simple:

"The Ka (kꜣ) was the Egyptian concept of vital essence, that which distinguishes the difference between a living and a dead person, with death occurring when the ka left the body."

That explains the spiritual edge. Snippets from Bruce Lee films, Fresh and Sherlock Holmes are placed here and there. He directed all the videos for this album. You can find them on Youtube. I've said too much. Sit down, and soak it in. Kids get your parents permission before you listen. This is where art imitates life. So, the violence of the times is reflected here. It is not celebratory. Still I don't wanna get blamed for corrupting humanity with rap. PEACE!

HHCF Joins T-KASH in Oakland Marathon Run for Peace

Rapper T-KASH Runs Marathon at Oakland Running Festival for the Cause of

Non-violence & Education

March 6th 2013, Oakland, CA- The Hip-Hop Chess Federation (HHCF) is proud to announce that it is sponsoring rapper T-KASH as he runs for a second time. T-KASH is well known as an Oakland based rapper respected globally for his aggressive rhymes about street life and violence. In recent years T-KASH expanded his physical skills by losing almost 100 lbs and becoming a marathon runner and certified fitness instructor. On March 24th he will participate in the Oakland Running Festival for a second time to promote non-violence, health and education.  

People can donate to his mile match campaign HERE

“T-KASH was one of the first rappers to join the HHCF in our mission” said HHCF Founder Adisa Banjoko. “I watched him transform his own mind and body. He went from about 240 lbs  to a 180 lbs Marathon runner in a little over a year. Its funny because I inspired him to get serious about healthy living, now he’s inspiring me with his dedication to nonviolence and education. There has never been a better time for Oakland and America to choose peace as the way to healing all communities.”

" The culture of gun violence in Oakland can't be addressed before we address the history of the culture of gun violence itself” stated T-KASH. “This can only be done to a certain degree if we just make songs about it. I felt the need to expand the means by which we make this issue visible. That's why I run."

" As a member of the Student Parent Association for Recruitment and Retention , and an African American/Asian-Pacific Islander student at UC Berkeley, I believe we need to continue bring awareness to the fact that the diversity demographic at UC Berkeley is too small to ignore or attribute to random circumstances."

To fully illustrate his point, T-KASH dropped the MP3 I Run The Bay feat. Adisa Banjoko. The rap is a powerful testament to his lyrical skill and empowering perspective on the importance of having mind and body balance.

In related news, Adisa Banjoko just returned from Harvard University last week hosting a workshop on how music, chess and martial arts promote unity, strategy and non-violence to American youth.

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T-KASH after last years Oakland Running Festival Marathon 

Look cooler than the person next you

Its true on the chessboard, on the mat, on the mic, on the turntables, on the dance floor...

Its true on the chessboard, on the mat, on the mic, on the turntables, on the dance floor...

Let 'em know you love the Bishop Chronicles !! I want to  thank CTRL Industries and Grypp Styles for collaborating with us on this shirt. 

Let 'em know you love the Bishop Chronicles !! I want to  thank CTRL Industries and Grypp Styles for collaborating with us on this shirt. 

OK, so check out this new shirt that represents the HHCF positive balance between logic and physical fitness. A portion of the sales will directly benefit the Hip-Hop Chess Federation. We thank you in advance for your support. http://ctrlindustries.bigcartel.com/product/technique-is-king